Studies point to value of school gardening

Evidence mounting that shows horticulture offers physical and intellectual value for children when included in schools.

Benefits: RHS school gardening
Benefits: RHS school gardening

New studies have proved the value of gardening and green spaces in schools for children's health.

As children return to school for the new academic year, evidence is mounting that horticulture gives value physically and intellectually.

School Gardens Enhance Academic Performance & Dietary Outcomes in Children by Claire Berezowitz, Andrea Bontrager and Dale Schoeller, published in the US Journal of School Health, found in a study of children taught in gardens at 12 schools, all showed improvement in predictions of fruit and vegetable consumption.

Four additional interventions that included a garden component measured academic outcomes. Of these, two showed improvements in science achievement and one showed improvements in maths scores.

The researchers said: "This small set of studies offers evidence that garden-based learning does not negatively impact academic performance or fruit and vegetables consumption and may favourably impact both."

Berezowitz told HW: "We're still studying the specific mechanisms of gardening that help students' learning, though it seems to be the opportunity for student-initiated experiential learning. A number of researchers have also studied the therapeutic effects of gardening, which for students who demonstrate improved behaviour through gardening may be part of the effect."

A further study published in June found green spaces in city schools improve mental development because of reduced exposure to traffic pollution and the psychological effect of having views of fields and trees rather than roads and buildings.

Spanish researchers led by Dr Payam Dadvand from the Centre for Research & Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona carried out mental performance tests on 2,593 children aged seven to 10 attending 36 primary schools in Barcelona every three months for a year. Participants' overall working memory increased by an average of 22.8 per cent and superior working memory by 15.2 per cent, while inattentiveness decreased by 18.9 per cent.

Dadvand said: "Our findings suggest a beneficial impact of green space exposure on cognitive development, with part of this effect resulting from buffering against such urban environmental pollutants."

Schools that increased greenness by the amounts observed in the study could reduce the proportion of children with impaired superior working memory development by nearly nine per cent, said the researchers.

The scientists applied a measurement called Normalised Difference Vegetation Index. Results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Furthermore, US project Real School Gardens will bring a garden to its 100th school this autumn. The project helps schools plan and build their garden based on students' designs.

Teachers at schools that partner with the programme report that three years after getting school gardens between 12 and 15 per cent more children in these schools passed standardised tests. Some 94 per cent of teachers in the Real School Garden programme have reported seeing increased engagement from students, according to an independent evaluation conducted by PEER Associates and funded by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.

Some 27 per cent of public elementary schools have a school garden, according to research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Another recent US report, School Gardens & Physical activity: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Low-income Elementary Schools, published in Preventative Medicine, found that children at schools with garden programmes report a reduction in sedentary behaviours, school gardens lead to increased moderate and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during the school day and children move more and sit less during outdoor garden lessons as opposed to indoor teaching.

This summer another study found that schools beat farmland and the countryside in a survey to determine Britain's most bee-friendly habitats. In May, more than 6,000 people armed with cameras and smartphones took part in the annual Great British Bee Count.

Over the course of the month 104,290 individual bees were recorded and 4,800 images were submitted. School grounds were found to host the greatest abundance of the insects, with an average of 11 bees per sighting. Woodland habitat came second, at around eight bees per sighting.




RHS projects - Rocket Science and teaching

The RHS opens applications for its Rocket Science project this month, in partnership with the UK Space Agency, allowing up to 10,000 schools to grow rocket seeds that have been into space. The seeds launch this week on Soyuz 44S for a six-month stay in the International Space Station.

The society's Campaign for School Gardening now covers some 20,300 schools - up by 3,000 since 2014. Next January the RHS will launch its annual School Gardeners of the Year competition.

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